5 Essential Neighborhoods to Help You Experience Seattle Like a Local

updated May 24, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)

Seattle is undoubtedly a city of neighborhoods, from the shady streets of Pioneer Square, to the cozy cafés in Capitol Hill, to the family-friendly brick streets of Ballard, to all the mini neighborhoods in between. It’s in those little corners that you’ll find the city’s most amazing food — the delicious evidence that Seattle’s become a cornerstone of the national food scene.

Here are my favorite neighborhoods, and what I can’t miss when I’m there.

Tip: As you plan out your days, you should organize by what area of town you want to see. Plan to spend some time traveling from place to place — the city’s public bus system is extensive but not always timely. Whether you rent a car or use a ride-share service like Lyft or Uber depends mostly on your preference.

(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)
(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)
(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)

1. Ballard

Vibe: Super family-friendly, great coffee shops for reading or chatting, cute boutiques.

Since it’s close to where I live, I spend part of every day in Ballard, working in cozy coffee shops, eating with friends and family, and getting my day-to-day errands done. I park with a laptop at Caffe Umbria or Anchored Ship, shop along historic Ballard Avenue (don’t miss the new Filson store), or huddle over Thai noodles at Pestle Rock. I love browsing at Secret Garden Books and a jewelry boutique called Curtis Steiner.

Read more:

This Seattle Neighborhood Will Make You Very Hungry

Where to Eat & Shop in Ballard

2. Capitol Hill

Vibe: Hip young things, great music venues and restaurants, Seattle’s best gayborhood.

I start with British-inspired stuffed doughnuts at General Porpoise (my advice: go for a fruity filling, like blackberry jam or grapefruit curd). After dusting the sugar off my face in time for lunch, I hit Café Presse, where I usually order a simple salade verte to tide me over while I wait for the roast chicken. I also love dinner at Stateside, where Vietnamese staples are twisted and turned to fabulous effect.

Where to Eat in Capitol Hill

(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)
(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)
(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)

3. Downtown

Vibe: Suits and tourists, great landmarks.

While you’ll find most of the city’s hotels downtown — for the best views, check out the Thompson Seattle or the Four Seasons, but for a bit less cash, go for the Palladian or the Ace Hotel — it’s not a place locals tend to hang out unless they’re shopping or hitting Pike Place Market. However, if you want a base that launches you right into sights like the Space Needle, the Museum of Pop Culture (“MoPOP”), Seattle Center, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Monorail, it’s where you want to be. My favorites? Donuts any time of day at Top Pot (check out the library upstairs), lunch at Le Pichet, and dinner at Sushi Kashiba (go early).

Where to Stay & Eat in Downtown

4. Georgetown

Vibe: Repurposed industrial spaces, edgy galleries, great brunch spots.

Under the giant red “R” you might have seen on your way in from the airport (it’s the landmark neon sign over the old Rainier brewery building that announces Georgetown to passersby) you’ll find the revamped industrial ‘hood that houses two of my brunch favorites: Sisters and Brothers (get the Nashville hot chicken, obviously) and Fonda la Catrina (huevos divorciados, every time). It’s fun to wander through the galleries — hit Fantagraphics to browse the graphic novel collection — and have dinner at the Corson Building to celebrate something special.

Where to Eat & Shop in Georgetown

(Image credit: Charity Burggraaf)

5. Pioneer Square

Vibe: One of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, historic buildings.

Pioneer Square is where I take visitors when I want to eat and shop for food at the same time. We start at Elm Coffee, where in warm weather I’m a huge fan of the iced espresso and tonic. I love wandering down Occidental Avenue, popping into the London Plane for lunch or just to shop for flowers, dishes, and pie crust, and into Rain Shadow Meats for cuts of sustainably sourced meat I can’t buy anywhere else. (And yes, okay, I’ve been known to look at shoes at Clementines.)

Where to Eat & Shop in Pioneer Square

Did I miss anything from your list? Share in the comments!